Sergio Rodriguez was expected to have some challenges early into the season. After all, it had been six years since the Real Madrid standout last played in the NBA.
Rodriguez is learning a new team and getting re-acclimated to a once-familiar league, all while taking on the role of starting point guard for the shorthanded Sixers. If his first regular-season game was an indication of his adjustment, Rodriguez’s transition back to the NBA from his native Spain is progressing smoothly.
“There’s a bounce to his game,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can run the heck out of a pick-and-roll and he can shoot. I just thought he was beyond solid [on opening night].”
Rodriguez, 30, clocked 32 minutes against the Thunder in his return to the league. He scored 12 points off 5 for 11 shooting (including 2 for 6 from three). Most importantly, he dished out nine assists without committing a single turnover.
Rodriguez ranked sixth in the NBA in touches in the first game. With 96, he was behind only Anthony Davis (103), Russell Westbrook (102), Deron Williams (100), Tim Frazier (98) and LeBron James (97). Taking care of the ball will be a point of emphasis on Saturday against the Hawks. They picked off 13 steals (third most in the NBA) in their opener.
“I always try to be secure on the floor for a point guard, especially,” Rodriguez said. “The way I play, I take risks sometimes so there’s going to be turnovers more often. But I was trying to be very sharp with the ball.”
Jerryd Bayless was projected to be the starting point guard this season with Ben Simmons taking over some ball-handling duties as a point-forward. Both are injured. Rodriguez edged out last season’s backup point guard T.J. McConnell to get the start.
Rodriguez brings a title-winning international career, four NBA seasons (Trail Blazers, Kings and Knicks) and Olympic experience to the Sixers. Last season, he led the Endesa League in assists per game for the second time in his career.
“I’m reminded about how much of a veteran he really is,” Brown said. “He’s played a lot of basketball. Although he’s new sort of to the United States and the NBA ... he’s played high level.”
Rodriguez is fitting in with the uptempo system Brown has designed. The Sixers were first in the league on opening night with an average speed of 4.49 miles per hour. Rodriguez led the team with an average 4.87 MPH.
“I have to bring energy on the floor,” Rodriguez said. “We need to run, especially for the system that Coach wants. We have to be very active — active on defense and knowing where everybody’s on the floor.”
Rodriguez will be challenged by another feisty point guard in the Sixers' second game. After going up against Russell Westbrook, he will face Dennis Schroder on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center (see game notes).
“It’s just been a game, but I felt much better [than the last time in the NBA],” Rodriguez said. “It was easier, but now is the tough thing. We have 81 more games.”